Gamebooks are good for you – they are books in the first place, and reading boosts your gray cells and develops imagination. Unlike the other genres, gamebooks offer a few significant advantages, besides hours and weeks of gameplay.
The first advantage is the money. In most cases, gamebooks come at an affordable price, if compared to premium games in other genres. Sometimes, developers offer awesome bundles, where you can get several books at a very lucrative price, which is lower than the total sum of the gamebooks when they are sold separately. Moreover, premium gamebooks almost never come loaded with in-app purchases. When you buy a gamebook, you buy it all – no hidden catch. In rare cases when developers release additional chapters or sequels, there may be season passes, but those cases are mostly true for the big developers’ series.
Another advantage is this genre is more demanding than many. FPS and TD games come in a multitude of generic titles with the same mechanics and story lines. Not the gamebooks. Each one is pretty unique, and the trickiness of the genre requires developers excel the reader’s expectations, or at least keep up with the paragons.
Which brings us to the next virtue of the gamebook genre – a steadily increasing quality of the games. A niche that has been inhabited by a few AAA developers a few years ago, is now a buzzing international hive with a lot of indie developers, big and small. They bring what we the readers crave the most – variety, new ideas, wonderful stories.
Finally, the consumers buying gamebooks in the majority of cases leave relevant feedback, which helps others make an informed decision. Basically, that is what we are going to do now – present you with a list of our favorite mobile gamebooks. It is in no way exhaustive, so you are welcome to add your suggestions in the comments below, whoever you are – an avid reader, or a gamebook developer. Here it goes. The following games are listed in no particular order since they are in different genres, like sci-fi, fantasy, historical, or drama.
Hyper Rift [Google Play, Amazon, iTunes] Freemium
Developer: CKS Studio
One of the recent releases, Hyper Rift takes an honorable place in our list of great sci-fi adventure gamebooks alongside our favorites Heavy Metal Thunder and its sequel Sol Invictus. Coming from an Asian indie developer CKS Studio, Hyper Rift is surprisingly free of charge. One IAP removes ads, but the entire game with 14 endings is available for free.
This sci-fi adventure gamebook is full of clever nods to several popular blockbusters from the likes of the Alien, Prometheus, Resident Evil, Splice, The Cube, Dreamcatcher and Solaris. Set on a space station, or a spaceship, Hyper Rift has you start off as a wounded, partly recovered, amnesiac staffer of a mysterious laboratory located in the outer space. You encounter alien species, mutants and splice as you wander along the seemingly abandoned facility, encountering other staffers, who are also disoriented and sometimes wounded. It is up to you to help them, or let them die, or kill them. How you tackle each challenge defines where you end, and you will definitely want to unlock all 14 endings. Why? Simply because many of them are far from being satisfactory, and if you want to find that one more or less happy ending, you will keep digging.
The game is packed with clever puzzles that touch on mathematics, physics, relativity, wormholes, antimatter, gravity and all that no-nonsense sci-fi jazz. Sometimes, you would not have a clue how to solve a puzzle because you took the route where you had not encountered the tips, and there are tips. Sometimes, a calculator would do. All things considered, Hyper Rift is clever, hard, mysterious and ultimately fun to read and play. A fluid interface and an attractive design top the sci-fi fest cake. Enjoy!
Choice of Robots $4.99 [Google Play, Amazon, iTunes, Steam, online]
Developer: Choice of Games LLC
Genre: Role Playing
Choice of Games LLC is a developer you may want to check out on your favorite app store – they have a slew of gamebooks worth checking out, and they all seem to have ‘choice’ in their names. Choice of robots is an interactive sci-fi novel that resides in a different end of the sci-fi spectrum – AI and transhumanism. The full game costs $5, but you can play the first two chapters in your browser and decide it for yourself if it is your cup of tea.
You get to choose your own character – a guy or a girl, his or her name and national identity, as well as the starting point of your adventure. Depending on how you take it, you will either be playing a Terminator judgment day scenario, or a Robot and Frank one, with a few intermediary options in the middle. The game encompasses the 30 years of life of a genius robot maker, and how you go about the work of your life defines the future not only of your family life, but also of the entire humankind. You can end up with a life full of love and fruitful work, mutual enrichment of humans and robots, or as Elon Musk out it, with AI ‘we are summoning the devil.’ It is gripping, but somewhat unsettling – the ‘good’ scenario has you marrying a robot ‘companion.’
Creatures Such as We [Google Play, Amazon, iOS] Free
Developer: Choice of Games LLC
Genre: Role Playing
Creatures Such As We is an interactive gamebook in its purest form – no soundtrack, no cutscenes, not even illustrations. It does look inconspicuous, indeed, but we encourage you check it out – it is free and it is a good read, with complicated choices and pretty sad endings. At least, that is as far as we could dig. The minimalist approach lets your imagination do the rest of the job – the atmosphere, music and visuals. The story takes you on a sci-fi journey with a philosophical double bottom, bringing romance and sci-fi together. As always, the choices you make path your way to one of the endings, and unfortunately the developers do not disclose how many endings there are. Nonetheless, the slight stab of stubbornness you might feel after accomplishing a not so happy ending will keep you coming back for an alternate destiny for your heroes.
Necklace of Skulls – Gamebook [Android, iOS] $1.99
Developer: Cubus Games
Genre: Interactive novel
Cubus Games is a relative newcomer to the niche, with their first gamebook launched just last year. If you noticed, we have included several of their works on the list, but not because we gobble up everything they produce, but because the gamebooks are awesome.
Necklace of Skulls is a mobile rendition of Dave Morris’ famous interactive novel that goes by the same title. Spiced with amazing illustrations by Jaume Carballo and a gruesome sound score, it takes you on a journey of discovery, death, black magic and family bonds. Set in the Mayan civilization, the game lets you choose from one of the four protagonists, each with their own background and set of skills. You will be developing those skills and acquiring inventory to your backpack as you travel, but the initial set of skills defines your strengths and weaknesses. Thankfully, you can play up to three game instances at the same time, and save them in the available game slots. Also, each game instance allows you to go back in the game to any of the saved checkpoints and take a different turn.
Story-wise, you play as a young Maya man or a woman, whose twin brother has been most likely murdered by a mysterious and powerful sorcerer Necklace of Skulls. Wizards, monsters, spirits, snakes, spiders and dragons, as well as common and noble people are on your way along with the dice-throwing combat, puzzles and choices that cost you your life. The gamebook is abundant in painful and inglorious endings, but offers a great replay value, so stock up with some patience.
Heavy Metal Thunder – Gamebook $2.99 [Android, iOS]
Developer: Cubus Games
Genre: Sci-fi gamebook
Heavy Metal Thunder by Kyle B. Stiff was the first work from the Spanish developer Cubus Games we reviewed on PocketMeta, and we were thoroughly impressed with the intense, sinister and adrenaline-inducing action. Futuristic dystopia – check; space travel and combat with aliens for the survival of the human race – check; complex emotional and psychological turmoil – check; intense action and complicated decisions – check; smooth UI and thought-provoking character and inventory management system – check. For a detailed overview of the multifaceted structure of the gamebook, read our review.
You play as a nameless, amnesiac officer of a special ops squad who wakes up floating in the outer space among the ruckus of an explosion, or the aftermath of a space battle. You have only 5 minutes to find some oxygen supplies, or you die. And so, with an intense heartbeat and no a single clue about what just happened, who or where you are, you begin the adventure. The cost of your actions is the fate of your friends, and possible the leftovers of the humans, slaughtered and enslaved by powerful alien species.
The book not only touches on the more or less predictable survival situations of our war with the aliens, but takes an unexpected turn throwing you into a complicated web of human psyche – your own, and that of your companions. Your actions, your skills, your will to live and ability to lead will determine how far you can go. An excellent replay value, three save slots for different game instances, checkpoints you can go back to and a sleek UI are topped with a grim, depressing artwork and anxiety-inducing sound score. This one will keep you entertained for a long while.
Sol Invictus [Android, iOS] $1.99
Developer: Cubus Games
Genre: Sci-fi gamebook
Sol Invictus is HMT’s sequel, and a stellar one. Kyle B. Stiff exceeded all my expectations, and while I thought HMT was a blast, Sol Invictus is even more impressive. You can begin with Heavy Metal Thunder, or you can start off with its sequel – thankfully, the story gives you enough introductions as to who you are and why you do what you do. The action is intense, and as usual, the replay value is wonderful. The author takes you further in the story of Cromulus, the human fanatic fighting the alien species for the survival and victory of the human race. In Sol Invictus, Cromulus reunites with his squad, the Venice Clovers, and together they are on the front line of the humans decisive counter-attack against the aliens, who have been victorious thus far. The operation is named Sol Invictus, or the unconquered deity, which dies and resurrects bringing death to its enemies. Expect a lot of bloodshed, plenty of dystopian reslity, which will give you the nauseating disgust to many manifestations of the real life.
Perfect in art work, atmosphere and music, Sol Invictus will keep you busy for a good while, and even if you come out with an ending you are happy with from the first time, you are sure to keep coming back to explore the story lines you haven’t touched on in your gameplay. Simply put, Sol Invictus is wonderful.
The Silent Age the 1st part Free, $5 for the second and final part [Android, iOS]
The Silent Age by House on Fire is a bright indie gem we encourage you play, if you haven’t played it before. The first part launched in 2013, the second and final part a year later, with the first one being a free bait meant to keep you on your toes, waiting for the conclusion of this gripping story. That said, the second part costs $5, and it is totally worth it, but the little detail – the game has little replay value. When the story ends, it ends – there is no alternative route you can take. Yet, I found the game similar to Monument Valley – you can go back to re-play it in a month, when the specific walkthroughs fade in your memory, and you feel like revisiting the story.
Joe is a janitor working in a governmental institution, some time in the 1970’s. His life is boring as much as it is making him dumb, so when he finds a dying man in the guts of the highly secured governmental vault, that event turns his life upside down. The dying man hands Joe a time traveling gizmo and tells Joe it is his duty now to prevent the apocalypse, which is to happen 40 years from Joe’s time.
Time-traveling based puzzles will keep you scratching the back of your head, as you restrain from taking a sneak peek at the walkthroughs on YouTube. This particular game is not entirely a gamebook, but it has just enough narration to draw a gruesome picture of the upcoming disaster. Without a doubt, Silent Age is the most visually impressive title on the list, with the trendy 2D vintage style and wonderful sound score you will want to experience with your headphones on, in darkness and alone.
If you enjoy sci-fi adventures, space and time travel, futuristic gizmo and tough survival, Out There is a must for you, if you haven’t played it yet. It is a work of art, and you will have to se it for yourself how static 2D visuals can be glorious, and a gruesome, eerie soundtrack a winner that stays in your head – you won’t mistake it for anything else.
Out There is an interactive novel, but reading is not its main gameplay element unlike many other titles on the list. Instead, it puts resource management at the core of the gameplay, and time and time again you will die due to oxygen or fuel shortage. Alone and disoriented, you find yourself stranded on a spaceship drifting off the course. Since you have been in cryosleep, you have no idea when or what caused the accident that sent your ship off the course. What you do know is you have limited supply of oxygen and fuel, and a little bit of tools to help you get going. So, you start mining resources from the nearby planets, searching the ones with a breathable atmosphere to replenish your limited tanks.
Your engine lets you jump from one planetary system to another, but not too far, and how you manage your ship’s capabilities defines how far you can get. Along your way, you encounter alien civilizations, most of which seem either extinct, or not willing to communicate. Nonetheless, you learn alien technology, alien language, and at some point, you may find your own body changing as a response to extreme space radiation exposure and visits to other planets. There are a few endings you will want to reach, and a good deal of spaceships you will be able to switch, so the replay value is great.
MiClos is working on an Omega edition to the game, with even more impressive visuals, and more gameplay, as well as an extended list of soundtracks.
by Telltale Games
Genre: Fantasy gamebook, point-and-click, comics, detective
A different style and a different genre in the gamebooks niche, The Wolf Among Us attracts the category of players who are more fond of the comic books style and the “Once Upon A Time” modern rendition of the fairy-tales.
The heroes of the fairy-tales have escaped their fantasy realm to inhabit the real city, and having mixed with the human vice, even more sinister wave of crime has flooded its dark streets. You play as the sheriff, the Bigby Wolf, as you chase the baddies from the likes of Rumpelstiltskin. Plenty of violence and tricky decisions, it contains five episodes full of wolves and bloody skull smashing, ample for adult players.
The first episode is free, while the rest come at $4.99 per each, or $15 for all. The art style is that of the DC Comics-Vertigo comic books while the lengthy dialogs are an unavoidable part of the experience. The gameplay is partly reading and making decisions, partly point-and-click puzzles, with an excellent Telltale execution.
As far as choose your own adventure games are concerned, Telltale is, of course, a big fish in the pool, so pointing out The Wolf Among Us alone would not be fair. Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead series are only a few titles that occupy the pantheon of the genre, but you must already know that.
If you like the fairy-tales come true stories, blended with a good detective twist and a lot of action, go ahead with the Wolf, it is very immersing, with excellent voice acting and a great comic style design.
Developer: Ubisoft Entertainment
Genre: history, drama, adventure, WW I, interactive novel
A winner of many 2014 awards, Valiant Hearts: The Great War by Ubisoft is, without a doubt, an outstanding adventure, and if World War I is your cup of tea, buy this game – it is worth every cent.
The story takes you to the trenches of the two famous WW I battles – the Battle of Somme and the Battle of Marne, as you play as one of the four playable characters. The adventure has the aim of helping the young German soldier reunite with his beloved, and you, as one of the characters of your choice, help him in his life or death struggle. Endearing and sometimes heart-breaking, this interactive book reminds you once again how fragile peace is. After all, WW I was some 100 years ago only, and after it there was WW II, and look at us now. Valiant Hearts features a gruesome design, but what would you expect from a wartime story? Oh, and the protagonist has a loyal dog friend Walt, quite an important character, mind you.
Westward Dystopia [Android, iOS TBA] $2.99
Developer: Greek Winter Media
Genre: Role Playing gamebook, dystopian future, post-apocalyptic adventure
Have you watched that 2006 horror The Hills Have Eyes? The desert, the mutants, the danger – all that hopelessly unhappy adventure. Westward Dystopia may not be as psychotic, but it sure is troubling. The story is set in seemingly not so distant future, a post-apocalyptic future, where the human civilization as we now know it is no longer. You play as a lone wanderer on a dangerous trip to find an ancient relic, which might change the course of the steady decline humans are treading. Many survive by scavenging, others have mutated in the most dire ways. It is up to you how you handle each encounter – kill, or walk away, or maybe be killed?
The combat does offer the dice-throwing element, which may not be your favorite solution, but the overall book is a great read, featuring some 120.000 words and six alternate endings. The rumor goes there is a surprise ending, too. Mutants, gangs, desert, fighting, shooting and pursuing ancient relics and artifacts – Westward Dystopia is a great story with very decent writing style and a quality adventure that keeps you tense all the way through. Don’t forget the excellent replay value since you will want to unlock all endings.
Developer: Robot Monster Productions
Genre: Adventure gamebook, apocalypse survival
Most of the games these days elaborate on post-apocalyptic scenarios, a subject much appreciated by the audience. However, surviving an apocalypse is a domain mostly inhabited by the movies like The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 or War of the Worlds. TINT A Survival RPG Comic Book takes you right there – at the beginning of the apocalypse itself.
The U.S. is under a chemical attack from the “hostile states.” You are a lone trucker going about your routine delivery when a warning message is transmitted over the radio. What you do from now is defined through a series of choices, big and small. Hurry up and drive past everything, or stop by a diner to scout it for a bottle of water and some canned food? Help a chemically burnt man, or leave him dying because there does not seem to be a way to save his life, if not prolong his agony?
This Is Not A Test is a brilliant gamebook in many ways. First of all, in its simplicity. The minimalist comic book style cuts on the heavy reading you find in many other gamebooks. Instead, the action and dialogs are limited to the speech bubbles, some with extensions. Yet, picking up items and interacting with people and situations is as easy and fast as it should be. Featuring 19 endings, TINT is a free gem, with one IAP unlocking an ad-free version with a vintage color scheme. Intense and thrilling, TINT must have a second chapter, and the developer’s website says the current game is a “prequel.” Hence, the story is only a beginning with a great replay value. Get it!
Genre: fantasy gamebook
A long-time classic, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf quickly became a classic on mobile platforms, with its turn-based combat, gorgeous 3D artwork, and a solid RPG gameplay mechanics. As in many other multi-episode gamebooks, the first episode is free to get you into the story while you can buy the rest of the episodes one by one, or simply a season pass that unlocks all existing and upcoming content.
If you are familiar with Joe Dever’s world, you know how the story goes, but if not, the game tackles the introductions gracefully – you play as the last of Kai Lords of Sommerlund, Kai, as he struggles to uncover a sinister mystery of his enemies, the Dark Lords of Helgedad. As in any decent RPG, Lone Wolf offers a comprehensive skill set, inventory, as well as the character upgrade system ample for the hardcore fans of the RPG genre. If a huge fantasy world from a famous author sounds like your cup of teas, Lone Wolf would make an excellent choice.
Developer: Inkle Studios
Genre: adventure, steampunk
An exceptionally sleek rendition of Jules Verne classic novel “Around The World in 80 Days,” 80 Days by Inkle is pure fun and a paragon setting the benchmark in the niche. Phileas Fogg, a British scientist and explorer, made a bet with other member of the British Scientific Society that he could make a world tour in as little as 80 days. Accompanied by his loyal valet Passepartout, and hunted by a villainous adversary, Phileas sets out on an adventure of his lifetime.
A gorgeous design suits perfectly well this interactive steampunk adventure, as you choose your own itinerary, competing with other players. Travel by air, land and oceans, explore all sorts of flying, driving and floating machinery, and manage your limited inventory slots. The luggage seems to be one of the core elements because a carefully planned and packed inventory will define how fast you reach your destination, and how you tackle all sorts of encounters on your way. Some adventures are totally steampunk while others smell like sorcery, but either way, 80 Days is one of the most brilliant adventure gamebooks $5 can buy.
Developer: inkle Ltd
Genre: Role Playing adventure, fantasy gamebook
The first and second games of Sorcery by Steve Jackson have become the best games of 2013, and a benchmark for the industry. It takes you to a fantasy world of Kakhabad, where you get to battle, or interact with hundreds of creatures and characters, cheat, steal, kill or make friends with them, as you travel through the mysterious lands of the enchanted world.
The design is gorgeous while the gameplay is intense, offering thousands of choices and an enormous replay value, making it one of the resident apps on your device you will keep returning to every now and then.
It offers endless hours of engrossing gameplay, as procedurally generated combat descriptions, the possibility to play as a male or female character, 48 magic spells and countless mini-games and puzzles, the 300.000 words Sorcery is a must-have for any gamebook aficionado.
Developer: Phoenix Online Studios LLC
Genre: horror, adventure gamebook
Feel like tickling your nerves so that they keep you awake at night? The Last Door is a mobile port of a browser game The Last Door. For greater effect, play it with your headphones on and late at night, in the dark, as you would play any other horror game. The horror atmosphere is complemented by the dark, low-res pixel art, which makes quite a lot of things somewhat fuzzy, thus increasing the feeling of uncertainty and doom.
You can play the game in your browser while the mobile port is also pretty good, but unlike the browser version, it offers subsequent chapters via in-app purchases. After all, the indie developer needs to fund the production.
The game begins with a suicide – let that sink in for a moment. Set in Victorian England, it takes you on a sinister adventure, opening creepy doors that are better off closed. You receive a letter from your old friend, the man who kills himself at the beginning. The letter send you to an abandoned mansion to uncover the mystery, which stems from your childhood years. Full of mysticism, sinister secrets and suspense, The Last Door is a wonderfully horrifying gamebook, with point-and-click elements.
Developer: Ben Garrett
Genre: Adventure gamebook, post-apocalyptic
The Eighth Continent skipped past our radar when it launched last year, so we are righting that wrong in this list. A post-apocalyptic interactive novel, it takes you to the times when a super-eruption destroyed the world as we now know it. The beginning of the book brings shivers down the spines of anyone who ever studied the possibilities of the Yellowstone Volcano going ‘big bada boom.’
The inevitable has happened, and now you need to find your family in the mess that is left of the once beautiful land. What virtues or vice the cataclysm brought out from the human race will make you face tough choices – who to trust, who to run away from, who you can protect.
Unlike the other games that put you in the shoes of a restless hero, the Eighth Continent makes you just that – a human. You will scavenge, steal, fight and trade your way to finding your family. Featuring over 700 pages, 20 achievements and a convenient bookmarking system, lots of mini-games, the game offers hours of immersing gameplay. The free version is ad-supported while the paid is ad-free. If you enjoyed the Lone Wolf, the Fighting Fantasy series or the Way of the Tiger, you definitely must try this little indie gem.
Developer: Tin Man Games
Genre: Role Playing gamebooks
Everyone knows Tin Man Games are the big fish of the mobile gamebook genre, and no list of gamebooks would be complete without one or two, or more, of their games. Make a pick – Tin Games has it all. Fantasy, detective, horror, spiced with dice-throwing combat, horrible creatures, impossible challenges, suspense and beauty – Tin Man Games is one of the benchmark setting developers.
The links are for the game bundles, but the mentioned bundles are by far not the only ones the developer has to offer, so if you are a fan of this developer, you can find a better deal on all of their games. If you are a newcomer to the genre, but enjoy it thoroughly, one or two titles from them will definitely enrich your experience with mobile gamebooks. So, you can pick one that looks especially attractive to you, like the Siege of Necromancer, where a sinister otherworldly presence took over your hometown, and you need to fight it to free your people. Appointment with Fear, where you play as a superhero back in the 1980s, is one of the stellar entries in Tin Man Games’ gallery, featuring an excellent replay value and a bold take on the genre. Basically, you can’t go wrong with their titles, so just choose a story you like best and enjoy it.
Developer: Hosted Games
Genre: Role Playing adventure gamebook, medieval adventures
Coming from the Choice of Games developer, Hosted Games is the gallery of user-made games on the developer’s engine, and Lords of Aswick, along with Tin Star [Android, iOS] $4.99, are one of the best samples of fan-made games, or rather a great illustration of how indie authors can make an appearance under a big name umbrella. So, if you have been considering your options, check how it’s done.
Lords of Aswick is one of the recent entrants, which takes you to a medieval setting, where you play as a young nobleman. Actually, you play throughout his life from childhood to death. The writing is great, and the long descriptive paragraphs probably outnumber the instances when your decisions make a difference, but the overall gameplay is engrossing, and if you contemplated a GoT-like adventure, but with less reading, check out the 250.000 words interactive novel Lords of Aswick. Here, you get to train your nobleman to become a real knight, establish a house, choose your own banner, earn yourself a seat next to the throne, battle shoulder to shoulder with other noble knights, die, and find a battle on the other side, fighting for God.
That’s it for today, but if you have more suggestions, you are welcome to share them with us in the comments below!